Advocate Editorial Board opinion:
exas roads see plenty of traffic every day. With the extra activity from the Eagle Ford Shale, the Crossroads' streets are receiving more wear and tear than usual. But with limits in the state budget, the Texas Department of Transportation is faced with the dilemma of how to pay for repairs.
TxDOT planned to save about $165 million every year by giving control of about 1,900 miles of roadway back to counties and cities across the state in a turnback program. Under the program, Victoria County would have received 14.2 miles, and the city would absorb an additional 34 miles. Local governments across the state, including Victoria County's Commissioners Court, spoke out against the program. Some, including Mayor Paul Polasek, said the measure amounted to an unfunded mandate - much like what Gov. Rick Perry often accuses Washington of passing - which would pass the cost of repairs down to county and city governments. In response, TxDOT clarified the program to emphasize it is a voluntary shift, not a mandate from the state.
We are glad to see TxDOT is not forcing communities and counties to accept financial responsibility for more roads, and we applaud our county leaders for taking the initiative to go to Austin and personally express their disapproval of this plan. We elect our commissioners to represent us in matters of county business, and they went above and beyond to fulfill that duty.
But while the program has been clarified to allow voluntary participation, the problem of funding for road and highway repairs across Texas is still present. The state still needs to find a way to pay to maintain our roads. One solution, albeit likely not a popular one, is to raise the state's gasoline tax. Texas currently has a tax of 20 cents per gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel. That amount has not changed since 1991, even though the cost of construction work has gone up substantially since then.
We realize no one likes to pay more taxes, but the state gasoline tax is designated to pay for road repairs. Keeping the state tax rate at this stagnant level is hamstringing the state budget for road construction. We are always an advocate for responsible government spending and frugal government practices, but the most important function of government is to care for and serve its citizens. By shying away from raising the gasoline tax year after year, state lawmakers are hurting Texas and its citizens. As unfortunate and inconvenient as it is, there are times when government has a legitimate reason to raise taxes. Now is one of those times.
We encourage state lawmakers to examine the state's gasoline tax during the next legislative session. Simply passing the buck for street repairs down to local governments is not good government. The state needs to take responsibility and find a way to fund road construction.
This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.